The most emotional and impactful moment from Donald Trump's speech before a joint session in Congress Tuesday night was when President Trump honored fallen Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens and his wife, Carryn Owens.
"Ryan's legacy is etched into eternity," said Trump.
In one of the few moments during the night, nearly every seat was vacated as lawmakers and those in attendance stood to give Owens' widow a standing ovation. Carryn was brought to tears by Trump's words. Even Van Jones, a staunch opponent to President Trump, said that was the moment Trump became the President of the United States.
In Washington's hyper-partisan environment, it is hard to get Republicans and Democrats to applaud anything together. But the one thing that does tend to bring the whole chamber to its feet is when the president honors an injured or fallen member of the U.S. military. In one collective voice, our lawmakers proclaim: We support our troops.
The point of this article is not to take away from that moment. Ryan and Carryn Owens deserve the standing ovation they received. They deserve the honor bestowed upon them by the Commander-in-Chief. They deserve the gratitude of a nation, for Ryan Owens was a hero and remains a hero in death. There is no disputing that. No one can dispute it nor should they try.
That moment in Trump's speech should invite pause, though. It is significant that members of both parties stand when the president invites an injured serviceman or woman or the widow of a fallen hero for a couple of reasons. The first is that both sides of the aisle can agree that our bravest deserve to be honored, but it also highlights that both are in agreement when it comes to policies of war and matters that affect the military.
Owens was involved in a raid in Yemen because of policies pushed by Republican and Democratic administrations, and by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Continued military operations in the Middle East, which dominate foreign policy discussions, are rarely questioned or opposed by members of either major party because the truth is there is no real difference between the two parties when it comes to matters of war.
And any attempt to question these policies is countered by partisans as not supporting the troops or wanting the U.S. to fail.
The status quo prevails because it is somehow impolitic to question the Washington establishment on America's current role in the world. It is somehow unpatriotic to ask, why must lawmakers keep parading out injured vets and widows for an applause moment because we refuse to take a harder, more nuanced look at the nation's foreign policy and stance on war abroad?
This article is not meant to convey support or opposition to particular actions taken in the Middle East. It is meant to turn attention to the fact that we have been locked in perpetual military conflict in the Middle East for nearly two decades now, and in the end, we need to ask, is this the direction the U.S. should continue to go down? Are we seeing a net positive in what is being accomplished? Or will there just be another ISIS we must defeat if and when we proclaim victory over this group after fighting al-Qaeda and other terrorist cells for 16 years?
Few in Washington are currently even willing to ask these questions, because again, there are significant political repercussions for suggesting that the U.S. should change course, and both parties are on the same page despite the perceived notion that there is a great divide on Capitol Hill between Republicans and Democrats. On some issues, sure, but not on this issue.
It was a wonderful moment to see the entire chamber honor Ryan and Carryn Owens, but we owe the memory of our fallen heroes more than just a standing ovation.
What does it do to the meaning of a standing ovation for a widow or injured warrior if it becomes a routine gesture in every State of the Union or presidential address before Congress? Talking about improving the lives of veterans returning from war doesn't amount to much if Congress or the president don't actually take a substantive and comprehensive approach to see it through.
These are conversations we need to have. Unfortunately, they are conversations that won't happen in a hyper-partisan, two-party system. No one likes to be called unpatriotic or accused of not supporting the troops simply because they have a mind of their own. However, such charges are convenient to keep people silent.
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